Microplastic found in atherosclerotic plaques of the heart

Microplastic particles have been found in plaques of atherosclerosis present in cardiac arteries

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Microplastic found in atherosclerotic plaques of the heart
© Theo Heimann / Stringer Getty Images

An Italian study has made a disturbing discovery, which puts the dangers of microplastics into even deeper perspective.

Researchers have now discovered how microplastics (particularly compounds used to make containers, coatings, plastic films and building materials, among other things) ended up in atherosclerotic plaques found in the arteries of the heart. Atherosclerotic plaques are already a deadly risk in themselves, but the presence of microplastics within them is even more sinister.

Researchers from the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli monitored 257 patients over 65 for 34 months after an operation to remove atherosclerotic plaques. The team detected measurable amounts of polyethylene in 58.4% of cases and polyvinyl chloride in 12.5%.

In these patients the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke and mortality from all causes was up to 2 times higher than in those who had not accumulated microplastics inside the plaques.

heart attack
heart attack© Alexander Koerner / Stringer Getty Images

Microplastic found in atherosclerotic plaques of the heart

Giuseppe Paolisso, coordinator of the study, explained: "All participants were followed for approximately 34 months and it was observed that in those who had plaques contaminated by plastic the risk of heart attacks, strokes or mortality from all causes was at least doubled compared to to those who did not have atherosclerotic plaques containing micro and nanoplastics, regardless of other cardio-cerebrovascular risk factors such as age, smoking, body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar values or previous cardiovascular events. The data also show a local increase significant increase in inflammatory markers in the presence of microplastics."

Raffaele Marfella, co-author of the study, added: "The pro-inflammatory effect could be one of the reasons why microplastics lead to greater instability of the plaques and therefore a greater risk of them breaking, giving rise to thrombus and thus causing heart attacks or stroke.

Data collected in vitro and in experimental animals have already shown that these substances can promote oxidative stress and inflammation in the cells of the endothelium that lines the blood vessels, but also alter the heart rhythm and contribute to the development of fibrosis and alterations in the functionality of the heart: these results show for the first time in humans a correlation between the presence of micro- and nanoplastics and a greater cardiovascular risk."